My Lords, in this wide-ranging debate—most eloquently introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is a great champion of human rights—I will concentrate on a special category of young student refugees in England who are denied the chance of further education. Polls show that some 60% of the public accept that international students hugely benefit Britain. Industry needs their skills, they bring in billions to the Treasury and they enrich the quality and income of our universities.
However, there is a relatively small group of young student refugees in England who face despair and injustice. They are those who came to Britain as unaccompanied child refugees, who are denied a chance to go to university even if they do well at school. When unaccompanied child refugees arrive in Britain, they are looked after by local authorities, which support their education and maintenance until they are about to become adults. When they are seventeen and a half, they are asked to reapply for asylum if they were not granted asylum when they first arrived. How can 17 year-olds, who came here without parents at a very young age, prove that they were fugitives from persecution? We rightly protect these young people when they arrive, but wrongly and unreasonably ask them to prove their right to stay years later.
If they are refused asylum, they are in limbo. If they are not granted asylum but granted a lower level of protection—discretionary leave to remain—and if they are bright and win a place at university, they are, since 2011, classified as international students who have to pay huge tuition fees which they cannot possibly afford. They also have to pay for their own maintenance. Before the law was changed in 2011, they were treated as home students, who pay lower tuition fees and have access to loans and possibly bursaries. Indeed, some universities waive tuition fees altogether for poor home students. The change in the law in 2011 means that bright youngsters who win a place at university find that they cannot take it up and are denied the chance to join their friends. The
Guardian recently highlighted one heart-breaking case, of which many can be cited. What makes the new rules even more unjust and, indeed, absurd is that in Wales the law did not change, while in Scotland a select number of these students pay no fees at all and have access to the same sort of support as their peers.
I recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill to reclassify students with discretionary leave to remain as home students. It is a short Bill with a very simple objective. If passed, the cost to the Treasury will be virtually nothing because the numbers involved are hundreds per year rather than thousands. Britain will gain because university graduates will provide the skills we desperately need. Talented young people who have gone through a terrible experience on the way here will no longer be denied a fundamental right: the chance to develop their talents through education. In the ballot for Private Members’ Bills, my Bill to rectify this injustice came 43rd out of 44. It has no chance of success without government support. Will the Minister press the Government seriously to consider supporting my Bill? The case for it on the grounds of national interest as well as justice is unanswerable. The cost is nugatory. How can it be justified that only student refugees in England suffer from this injustice? Surely the Government cannot refuse to take this simple step to right this wrong.